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MLB blues: TV black eye?

A strike over contraction terms could delay season, scramble TV schedules 11/11/2001 07:00:00 PM Eastern

Yanks' net yanks broadcast games

Yanks' net yanks broadcast games

New York baseball fans got the short end of the three-year deal under which YES Network gave WCBS-TV local broadcast rights to New York Yankees' regular-season games.

WCBS-TV will carry at least 20 games under terms of the pact—probably 25 each season—for approximately $10 million per year, sources say.

The number of New York Yankees games on broadcast TV has dropped precipitously, from 75 a season in 1990 to 50 games, over the past decade, when WPIX-TV and then WNYW-TV were the local broadcast partners with MSG Network.

With an estimated 80% of TV households in the New York market wired for cable, YES Network Chairman and CEO Leo Hindery believes the Yankees' network is being sensitive to consumers. "We're not disrespectful of the necessity for broadcast carriage," says Hindery, the former head of cable giant TCI. "But we are a basic-cable offering, and we're committed to that being the primary means of distribution."

Hindery says the key cable operators with whom he still needs to strike carriage pacts are on board with the basic-cable strategy, instead of pay-channel or pay-per-view carriage. But he figures to face an uphill negotiation with Cablevision Systems Corp., whose MSG Network now has a major scheduling hole without Yankees' baseball.

Hindery says he's unconcerned about prospects for a labor stoppage over baseball's contraction plans. And he expects the Yankees' schedule to be as attractive to advertisers as it was to the local stations that vied for the rights.

For its part, WCBS-TV reports strong initial reaction from advertisers, according to VP/GM Tony Petitti. He expects to have a schedule including marquee interleague and divisional match-ups and is "optimistic" about an uninterrupted season. He declined to say whether ad rates were escalating with the sparse broadcast schedule.

Major League Baseball placed itself at the edge of another labor-relations precipice last week, its announced plans to drop two teams raising the distinct prospect of a delayed 2002 season.

Coming on the heels of a riveting World Series that saw the Arizona Diamondbacks upend the New York Yankees, a labor impasse disrupting next year's regular season would more than squander the fan interest that the dramatic series inspired.

Independent sports consultant Neal Pilson, former head of CBS's sports unit, witnessed the deadening impact the 1990 work stoppage had on the network's national baseball deal. "Frankly, it damaged us for the remainder of our four-year contract," he recalled. "Loss of sponsors and loss of audience made it a losing proposition for CBS. The worse problem we faced was the uncertainty created by that labor stoppage."

A Fox Sports spokesman said simply that that network is "optimistic" that the two sides will resolve the differences between them during the off-season. He declined to confirm a report that Fox's six-year, $2.5 billion MLB deal somehow protects the network from the effects of a work stoppage.

A spokesman for ESPN, which currently has a six-year, $850 million deal with Major League Baseball, said the fallout from contraction was not a "central issue" for the network, which is apparently unfazed by the prospect of a delayed season.

With negotiations on a new agreement between MLB ownership and the players' union in limbo at the moment, the declared contraction strategy only muddled that already charged situation. Now the players' union confronts the loss of 50 jobs on the two teams—most likely, the Minnesota Twins and Montreal Expos. The old pact is set to expire this month.

"They're trying to tell the players, 'We run the show, and we're going to get rid of 50 of your jobs, and we can do this because we are the owners,'" says Lee Lowenfish, sports author and baseball labor-relations scholar. "The baseball owners are a more exclusive club than the U.S. Senate, and they're not elected."

Contraction raises the issue of where players displaced from the two abandoned franchises will play. The options figure to be free agency, likely to be favored by the union, or a dispersal draft, certain to be the owners' solution. The potential for lawsuits would appear to be limitless.

Pilson says contraction has clearly "compounded" the difficulties in baseball's labor talks, and he is among those concerned that the issues won't be settled by April.

Players' union representatives were already suspicious of ownership motives after Commissioner Bud Selig reportedly cut off talks in June.

Yanks' net yanks broadcast games

Yanks' net yanks broadcast games

New York baseball fans got the short end of the three-year deal under which YES Network gave WCBS-TV local broadcast rights to New York Yankees' regular-season games.

WCBS-TV will carry at least 20 games under terms of the pact—probably 25 each season—for approximately $10 million per year, sources say.

The number of New York Yankees games on broadcast TV has dropped precipitously, from 75 a season in 1990 to 50 games, over the past decade, when WPIX-TV and then WNYW-TV were the local broadcast partners with MSG Network.

With an estimated 80% of TV households in the New York market wired for cable, YES Network Chairman and CEO Leo Hindery believes the Yankees' network is being sensitive to consumers. "We're not disrespectful of the necessity for broadcast carriage," says Hindery, the former head of cable giant TCI. "But we are a basic-cable offering, and we're committed to that being the primary means of distribution."

Hindery says the key cable operators with whom he still needs to strike carriage pacts are on board with the basic-cable strategy, instead of pay-channel or pay-per-view carriage. But he figures to face an uphill negotiation with Cablevision Systems Corp., whose MSG Network now has a major scheduling hole without Yankees' baseball.

Hindery says he's unconcerned about prospects for a labor stoppage over baseball's contraction plans. And he expects the Yankees' schedule to be as attractive to advertisers as it was to the local stations that vied for the rights.

For its part, WCBS-TV reports strong initial reaction from advertisers, according to VP/GM Tony Petitti. He expects to have a schedule including marquee interleague and divisional match-ups and is "optimistic" about an uninterrupted season. He declined to say whether ad rates were escalating with the sparse broadcast schedule.

 

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